Imagine mid-December 1966, a young family with three children including a nine-year-old girl, arriving on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean at Pier 21. Two days before Christmas begins a rail journey for the family, taking them to Prince Edward Island, where they are one of the first East Indian families to arrive and settle on the island, known as the cradle of confederation. Her Canadian connection began at birth. She was delivered by a Canadian missionary doctor at the Maple Leaf Hospital in the Himalayas of northern India.
Forty years later, her journey brings her to the wheat fields and sunflowers of Manitoba, which is now home. In 2013, she accepted the role of executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council (MIIC) – affectionately known as Welcome Place – a hostel-like setting in Winnipeg much like Pier 21, to welcome and settle refugees from all over the world.
Starting in 2013, Chahal’s work at MIIC meant providing leadership to settle refugees and newcomers including the special federal initiative of welcoming over 2000 Syrian refugees to Manitoba. Shortly after Chahal managed and provided much-needed humanitarian services for refugee claimants during the surge of claimants who came through the U.S./Emerson border. This required working with multiple agencies including housing, social services, legal, community and sister agencies to build, maintain and nurture strong partnerships to serve some of the world’s most vulnerable seeking protection.
In 2013, Chahal served as general manager of the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce where she worked closely with the business community across Manitoba. She understands Manitoba’s business community and its challenges and opportunities. As a minority woman from the arts and cultural sector, Chahal shared her understanding of employment and workplace issues impacting women and immigrants within the business community. The chamber is now a leader in reflecting the population demographics of Manitoba both at its board structure and its workforce complement.
In 2020, during the middle of a global pandemic, Rita accepted the role of executive director of the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba to provide leadership in serving those impacted by mental health in our province.
Chahal held the position of executive director with the Women in Media Foundation, a national organization that collaborated with young women of diverse backgrounds to introduce them to careers in broadcasting film and new media.
Embracing diversity requires strong faith and crisis management at every turn. A proud, naturalized Canadian, Chahal is a first-generation immigrant herself who refuses to be isolated or stopped in realizing her dreams. Chahal can straddle both the private, non-profit and government worlds. She excels in these worlds by building partnerships. As a parent, she is most proud of her three children in whom she instilled the importance of honoring their bicultural heritage. Her guiding principle in life is built on hope, faith, and love. That nine-year-old is now a grandmother of four and can only imagine a world where racism has no place. But she works towards that goal daily.